Mark Twain was one of America’s most prolific humorists. Best known for such classics as Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Mr. Twain was also famous for his insightful tales about the experiences faced by peoples they lived their daily lives.
The conversation drifted smoothly and pleasantly along from weather to crops, from crops to literature, from literature to scandal, from scandal to religion; then took a random jump and landed on the subject of burglar alarms. And now for the first time Mr. McWilliams showed feeling. Whenever I perceive this sign in a man’s dial, I comprehend it, and lapse into silence, and give him the opportunity to unload his heart.
Said he, with bit ill-controlled emotion: I do not go one single cent on burglar alarms, Mr. Twain – not a single cent – and I will tell you why. When we were finishing our house, we found we had a little cash left over, on account of the plumber not knowing it. I was for enlightening the heathen with it, for I was always unaccountably down on the heathen somehow, but Mrs. McWilliams said no; let’s have a burglar alarm. I agreed to this compromise. I will explain that whenever I want a thing, and Mrs. McWilliams wants another thing, and we decide upon the thing that Mrs. McWilliams wants – as we always do – she calls that a compromise.
Very well: The man came up from New York and put in the alarm, and charged three hundred and forty-five dollars for it, and said we could sleep without uneasiness now. So we did for a while – say a month. Then one night we smelled smoke, and I was advised to get up and see what the matter was. I lit a candle, and started toward the stairs, and met a burglar coming out of a room with a basket of tin ware, which he had mistaken for solid silver in the dark. He was smoking a pipe. I said, “My friend, we do not allow smoking in this room.” He said he was a stranger, and could not be expected to know the rules of the house; and he had been in many houses just as good as this one, and it had never been objected to before. He added that as far as his experience went, such rules had never been considered to apply to burglars anyway.
I said, “Smoke along then, if it is the custom, though I think that the conceding of a privilege to a burglar that is denied to a bishop is a conspicuous sign of the looseness of the times. But waiving all that, what business have you to be entering this house in the furtive and clandestine way, without ringing the burglar alarm?”
He looked confused and ashamed, and said, “I beg a thousand pardons. I did not know you had a burglar alarm; else I would have rung it. I beg you will not mention it where my parents might hear of it, for they are old and feeble, and such a seemingly wanton breach of hallowed conventionalities of our Christian civilization may all too rudely sunder the frail bridge that hangs darkly between the pale and evanescent present and the solemn deeps of eternities. May I trouble you for a match?”
I said, “Your sentiments do you honour, but if you will allow me to say it, metaphor is not your best hold. Spare your thigh; this kind of match lights only on a box, and seldom there in fact, if my experience may be trusted. But to return to business; How did you get in here?”
“Through a second story window.”
It was even so. I redeemed the tin ware at pawnbroker’s rates, less cost of advertising bade the burglar good night, closed the window after him, and retired to headquarters to report. Next morning we sent for the burglar alarm man, and he came up and explained that the reason the alarm did not “go off” was that no part of the house but the first floor was attached to the alarm. This was simply idiotic; one might as well have no armour on at all in battle as to have it only on his legs!
The expert now put the whole second story on the alarm, charged three hundred dollars for it, and went on his way. By and by, one night, I found a burglar in the third story, about to start down a ladder with a lot of miscellaneous property. My first impulse was to crack his head with a billiard cue; but my second was to refrain from this attention, because he was between me and the cue rack. The second impulse was plainly the soundest, so I refrained, and proceeded to compromise. I redeemed the property at former rates, after deducting ten percent for the use of the ladder, it being my ladder, and the next day we sent down for the expert once more, and had the third story attached to the alarm, for three hundred dollars.
To be continued…
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